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Boom town’ Sutter Creek Expands in All Directions;Wastewater a Problem

By Jim Reece: With 300-plus housing units in the planning books, another 1,640 and a golf course on the immediate horizon, wastewater daily capacity is a common growing issue for all of Amador County.

This is especially true in Sutter Creek, where the 1,640 new units eventually would stand. Thus, most of the county has embarked on a regional wastewater study.

“We´ll probably need 8 million gallons per day in 30 to 40 years when we´re built out,” City Manager Rob Duke said Wednesday of projected wastewater needs. The location of the city´s treatment plant, however, in a ravine, alongside the Sutter Creek cannot really supply the space needed for emergency storage. Thus, the site could top out at about a 3.4 million gallons per day treatment capacity, he said.

The system now disposes of second-stage treated water in spray fields in Ione at Castle Oaks Golf Club in an agreement signed with the Amador Regional Sanitation Authority, which formed in 1978. ARSA also stores treated wastewater in three reservoirs in Ione – an important part of the system in winter, when law disallows spraying due to runoff.

A controversy sprouted in the 1990s and Ione was ordered in court to maintain its obligations to the supplying of spray fields, Duke said. The agreement, however, is finite.

“We have all known that we had a deadline when we wouldn´t be able to send it there any more,” Duke said. ARSA sought replacement spray-field property and identified a prime location as the Noble Ranch, an 833-acre plot with a potential spot for a 123-foot dam and a large storage reservoir.

The city bought the site for $3.5 million, though the Army Corps of Engineers has since rejected the large lake in favor of several smaller ones with identical capacity, Duke said.

In 2001, the city negotiated a public/private partnership to purchase the land, with developers of Gold Rush Golf Resort so that the city and ARSA kept disposal rights and rights to lines, reservoirs and easements on the property.

“We spent $750,000 and they spent $2.4 million,” Duke said.

ARSA itself is coming near its contracted end and members have been discussing whether to remain and are talking about representation and capabilities. Duke said he thought that it would be difficult for Sutter Creek to keep running ARSA. The city has five staff members – counting the post that was vacant last year and will be filled in 2005-2006. The staff handle public works, streets, roads, parks, building maintenance, risk management and sewer and pool operation. They also have one full-time ARSA employee maintaining reservoirs and pipelines.

The system has three reservoirs: Henderson and Preston reservoirs and the Preston forebays. The latter, the smallest, is about 1 acre-foot or about 144,000 gallons.

The sewer treatment plant can process a maximum of 480,000 gallons a day, Duke said, while demand currently is about 330,000 gallons per day.

“Once the county starts building in Martell and Gold Rush starts building, that will get eaten up pretty quick,” he said. They have about 150,000 gallons per day currently to commit to development plans.

“We have an expansion plan for the plant,” he said and a regional waste plan involves most of the cities and areas in the county, excluding Plymouth but including Upcountry.

“In the meantime, Ione has softened up and said they wanted to continue to be a part of the regional solution,” Duke said.

The Gold Rush plan also includes 110 acres of former Allen property for 950 to 1,000 acres, which after Sept. 11, 2001, entered a holding pattern like much of the country, Duke said. In 2002, the Gold Rush plans for a golf course and 300 units of time-share bungalows was approved.

“We anticipated they would be working on the golf course by 2004,” he said. A new partner, however, pushed the idea that more housing would be needed to make the project viable and 1,340 housing units were added to the golf course and 300 bungalows, “in clusters, with two, three or four units each, scattered around, looking down over the ridge down into the valley.

“We´re in the eye of the hurricane, now,” he said. Consultants are looking at environmental impacts and the city expects to see a draft Environmental Impact Report by the end of the year. It was expected sooner, but as a result of community input, the plan was changed.

The corps of engineers rejected the large reservoir, which would have required replacing lost seasonal creek footage with two-fold or three-fold the footage of creeks that run year-round.

The Gold Rush Golf Course would sit off old Stoney Creek Road, an aged former stagecoach road that connected Jackson and Ione, while housing would be around Ridge Road and the former Noble Ranch.

Approved housing in Sutter Creek includes:

• Powder House Estates with 108 total units, 54 of which are townhouse or condo style and 54 of which are to be single-family homes.

• Golden Hills Estates, 105 units

• Sutter Crest Estates, 105 to 109 units

• Crestview Estates has 54 units left to build, but its map is close to expiring.

• Bryson Drive condos were approved three years ago but have a new partner who prefers building single-family, non-attached housing that can be purchased like a condo.

Another development of single-family, custom-style homes in a subdivision with less than 100 units is in the works, as is a development in idea form by the firehall, by Amador High School.

Land to city:

Caltrans gave 176 acres to the city because they had to come up with land to plant oak trees for those they displaced with the Highway 49 Bypass, Duke said. The Crestview project would put its 54 units at the end of El Dorado Court, about a 50-foot stub of a road that sits above the wooded land Caltrans donated.

Duke said Caltrans will plant trees there and manage the property for 10 years, then the city would take over and a trust fund Caltrans establishes would fund the park, which would be more open space and have trails to town. The park would have a parking lot, a maintenance building and a couple of public restrooms.

Sutter Crest Estates is donating 30 acres to the city for open space and parks. Duke said it would be property around the former Emerson Shaft and include the aging stone building that is the former headquarters of the Wildman Mine.

The map conditions of approval included preserving the structure, building a fence around the shaft and capping the shaft to prevent people from falling in, Duke said. It will be a natural park, with no grading planned. It will be located above Cole Street on the hill and will have walking trails to downtown. There will also be walking trails between Golden Hills and Powder House and from Skunk Hollow to Bryson Drive.

Each development will have trails to downtown as part of its map requirement, so virtually all new development will have foot-path access to the heart of the city.

The Powder House Development will have its road come out onto Gopher Flat Road, where the old Shake Ridge Road sign stands marking the former city limits, Duke said. Just past that will be public space in and around the creek and drainage. The developer will also straighten Gopher Flat Road over that curve.

Another project in the works is a group of 11 lots of 5 acres each on Bryson Drive. They will donate the old Sutter Hill Road and Century Eureka Mine. The road will be a trail connecting to Eureka Street.

With the requirement, developments could bring 4 to 5 miles of trails to the city, Duke estimated.

There is not a park-to-development ratio, Duke said, but he said the city encourages “cluster” development, such as Powder House Estates will employ. Instead of building on the hill above town and above Cole Street, development will instead be on the other side of the hill, out of sight, with one cluster of a few homes over the hill. Horseshoes of homes will then be built on loops on either side of the “saddle.”

In talks with development for the Fitzgerald property, the city has suggested leaving a “green belt” between the units, along power line easements, for public space and for water and sewer line easements.

Reprinted with permission from The Amador Ledger Dispatch.Com